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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Spending a Dark Night inside Langun Gobingob Cave in Samar


I awoke, disoriented from a deep slumber. I looked up, expecting the sight of scattered stars. Instead it was pitch black. Slowly, it dawned on me that I was sleeping in a hammock inside a cave, where the ceiling rose as high as 200 feet.
I checked my watch and it said 6:35 a.m. It was daytime outside, but inside the cave, it was always dark night. I stood up and packed my things as we prepared for breakfast before making our way to the exit at the other end. Excited, I prepared mentally for the rigorous routes that awaited us in the many chambers of Langun Gobingob.


The man who caved in

The day before we entered the mammoth mouth of Langun Gobingob cave in Calbiga, Samar, cave master Joni Bonifacio of Trexplore the Adventures, gave us a brief backgrounder of the cave.

Audrey from Belgium beside me and the Polish couple on both sides
Known to the locals for many decades, the cave gained prominence in 1987 when an Italian group of speleologists, headed by Guido Rossi, explored the cave’s deeper and farthest chambers. After a thorough mapping process, local caving enthusiasts soon joined future explorations.


Joni Bonifacio was one of many who was lured by the cave’s allure. Not long after, he started guiding his friends on weekend forays inside Langun Gobingob. After having spent a hundred spelunking trips to the cave, Bonifacio decided to put up Trexplore the Adventures – an adventure outfitter guiding travelers to Samar, Leyte and Biliran.


In the years that followed, Bonifacio became the go-to guide for caving buffs wanting to explore Samar’s many cave systems. He became so popular that even the Lonely Planet guidebook highly recommends him.

‘Biggest’ cave in the Philippines

Inside Calbiga Cave, we saw a treasure trove of karst formations of different shapes and sizes spanning an underground labyrinth of 2,970 hectares. The sight solidified current claims of it being the biggest cave system in the Philippines and one of the largest in Asia. It is so huge that our original camping spot is called the “football field.”


When we entered the cave, hard rain the previous night had made it into a swamp with three-foot mud, forcing us to make an emergency campsite at one of the cave’s flat portions.

‘Leave no trace’ Policy

Inside the cave, we religiously followed the leave no trace policy of Sir Joni. Not only we made sure of bagging all our trash, everything related to call of nature should either go inside a plastic bottle – for urine, and the garbage bag for all poops.

Spot the bottle of urine and the plastic bag of poop.
I know peeing on a bottle is a walk in the park compared to doing the number 2. I thought I was safe from pooping but lo and behold, I woke up the next day hearing some roaring sounds emanating from my tummy.


So, I decided to hunch down beside a number of dead stalagmites and went over my business. The trick was to spread a plastic bag as wide as you can before putting sheets of tissue papers over it, so it will absorb the poop’s fluid. Then when you’re done, gently roll it over and tie it up to close before putting it inside a large garbage bag. It was easier done than when you think about it, I just pity the guide who had to carry it out of the cave. 

Tangled maze of spectacular chambers

The next day, on our way out, we saw the full grandeur of Langun Gobingob cave. From one chamber to another, we were greeted by extraordinary stalactite and stalagmite formations. Even in the dark with only our headlamps illuminating our way, we could clearly see the calcium carbonate-covered rock formations shimmering like extravagant jewels.


For each chamber, Joni had a name. Giant Chandeliers, for example, referred to the part where stalactites looked exactly like the dripping crystals of huge chandeliers. Each time exhaustion crept in, all I would do was direct my headlamp into the fascinating rock formations around me and it would be replaced by sheer euphoria.


The last part of our route should tickle every adventurer’s imagination. We waded through chest-deep natural pools, ambled through mud-filled cavernous passageways, and rappelled down from a 40-meter high wall. Every inch of the cave was designed by nature to cater to every swashbuckling caver.


While splashing my way into another natural pool, I finally saw the light emanating from the mouth of the cave.


“We’re almost there,” I told myself as Audrey, my new friend from Belgium, strode behind me. Mixed feelings reigned over me as we posed for a photograph celebrating our two-day assault of Langun Gobingob Cave. Ecstatic that I could finally relax all my limbs and muscles, I also felt the blues at leaving this astonishing spot.


As we exchanged high fives, I turned around for one last glance and thanked Mother Nature for spending thousands of years carving this remarkable cave.


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This article first appeared on the Lifestyle page of The Daily Tribune on July 21, 2018.

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